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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 6, 2006

Plantation closure need not end an era

In the commercial world, there is little room for romance.

Thus, the decision by the Del Monte Corp. to shut down its fresh pineapple operation on O'ahu is a pragmatic business decision.

The company clearly believes it can do better putting its money and assets elsewhere.

The decision to cease operations at the end of 2008 raises several important questions for the plantation community that thrived around the Del Monte operation and for the state as a whole.

Will the lifestyle of those who worked for Del Monte be preserved, at least in part? There are hopeful signs of a plan to allow workers to buy their company homes at substantially reduced rates.

This is an area where the state might want to step in as well. If the hundreds of pineapple workers are forced to give up their subsidized company housing, they will be thrown into an already tight housing market.

Allowing the workers to buy their homes will produce a measure of social stability and keep additional pressure off the housing market.

A key question is what will happen to the land (leased from the Campbell Estate) once pineapple is gone.

There will be immediate pressure to develop the site for housing and other uses. Between now and 2008, efforts should be launched to keep this land in agriculture, if at all possible.

Already, a bill is moving at the Legislature to designate the Del Monte acreage as "important" agricultural lands, which would give them legal protection against development pressures.

To make this work, the landowner must be given assurances that it won't face a tax burden that all but forces it to convert to a higher use. And prospective farmers or tenants must be given leases long enough to make investment in a new farming operation worthwhile.

The Del Monte property might be a likely candidate for serious cultivation of bio-fuels, which have received extra attention in recent months. Other options include food crops that would substitute for imports, thus improving our food security.

In the end, while we mourn the loss of this colorful and important piece of Hawai'i history, there should be ways to preserve some elements of the lifestyle and agricultural presence it represents.